https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/09 ... aveholder/“Despite not being raised in a slaveholding home, and initially supporting [church founder] Joseph Smith’s abolitionist sentiments, upon moving to Utah he made the decision to become a slaveholder,” the petition reads. “… We must change the name of the building housing the university’s highest officers. It cannot continue to bear the name of a man who held slaves, some of whom were near the age of the students on campus.”
Some of his descendants have launched a defence in an attempt to thwart the operation and to keep their ancestors name on the building.
https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/09 ... aveholder/In a recent letter to Smoot’s progeny and to BYU, leaders of the family argue that their forefather deserves to be remembered for all of his contributions, not just for being a slaveholder.
“We, the Abraham Owen Smoot Family Organization, denounce slavery. Slavery is wrong,” the letter begins. “It is terrible that it was very prevalent in the American culture and that it has existed in many cultures throughout history.”
Still, it is impossible to understand “enough of the context, culture and happenings 160 years ago,” the letter continues, “to be able to place judgment on the motives, decisions and virtues of those early pioneers.”
The descendants acknowledge that their ancestor was from the South and was a slaveholder.
“We know that he shared the restored gospel with Jerry and Tom. It is documented that Jerry and Tom joined [the church] prior to A.O. Smoot giving them their freedom. Nine years after joining the church, Tom died at the age of 42 of ‘inflammation of the chest,’” the letter continues. “After being given his freedom, Jerry stayed with and lived with the Smoot family and also moved with the family when [they moved] to Provo.”
The Smoot family letter, signed by more than a dozen descendants, reasons that the BYU administration building bears his name “because of his monumental sacrifice and contribution to this institution.”
However, there are some “inaccuracies” in this portrayal of their ancestor...
There can be no argument that a slave owner should not have a building named after him in this day and age.Some of the historical information provided in the letter is not accurate, says historian Amy Tanner Thiriot, author of the forthcoming volume, “Slaves in Zion: African American Servitude in the Utah Territory.”
“Smoot did not free anyone. Jerry is not known to have been a baptized member of the church,” Thiriot says. “Jerry did not go with Smoot to Provo; he drowned and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Salt Lake Cemetery.”
Reading the Smoot collections left her “with great respect for the public service of A.O. and Margaret Smoot,” the historian says. “I also have respect for the public service of enslavers like George Washington, but that doesn’t extend to even the faintest attempt to excuse human rights abuses, including human trafficking, unfree labor, coercion or other forms of abuse connected to the institution of slavery.”
As for Tom, he was granted his freedom, not by Smoot, who was his bishop, explains University of Utah historian Paul Reeve, but by Republicans in Congress, who outlawed slavery in the territories in 1862 “because they recognized slavery as evil.”
Such U.S. leaders, he notes, also “were products of the 19th century.”
As for their claim that renaming the building does nothing to advance the cause of anti-racism...
Celebrating Smoot’s achievements “without grappling with his failings does all of us a disservice,” says Reeve, author of “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” sends “a signal that BYU and the church are unwilling to be honest about racism in the present because they can’t be honest about it in the past.”
Further, it tells Black BYU students “that they don’t matter, at least not as much as white Latter-day Saints with wealth and influence; that their Black LDS ancestors in this church didn’t matter, that Tom didn’t matter as much as Abraham,” he says. “Is there a balance that demonstrates with concrete action, not mere platitudes, that BYU honors Tom’s pioneer legacy as much as Abraham’s, that Tom and Abraham are in fact ‘alike unto God?’ ”